UCOD Creates Immersive, Live Data Visualization Performance Using PubNub

Data visualization is the act of taking a pool of data and forming a visual representation of that data in a schematic form. Orkan Telhan and Mahir Yavuz are interdisciplinary artists who specialize in data visualization, and they’ve been traveling around Europe for the last couple months performing their project, United Colors of Dissent.

United Colors of Dissent Creates Immersive, Live Data Visualization Performance

UCoD Performance, Istanbul, November 2014 (Photo: Engin Gercek)

What is UCoD?

United Colors of Dissent (UCoD) is a data-driven performance designed for live public interaction in urban environments. Inhabitants of a public space respond to a series of questions using their mobile phones, and interact with each other in realtime using a media facade or similar display infrastructure.

The performance intends to capture the linguistic and socio-cultural profile of different communities by creating dynamic visualizations and infographics.

The concept? The audience is in a public space, and there is a media facade (building or urban screen) in view. Anyone in the audience with a smartphone can join the performance through a simple URL on their browser, and answer questions every 30 seconds using simple slider. Their answers are collected in a pool, and based on those answers, the results are visualized on the media facade.

So How Does Realtime Technology Come Into Play?

UCoD is based on the concept of immediate data visualization, meaning that the data is visualized as it gets collected and shared immediately with the audience to give them feedback throughout the performance. As a result, Telhan and Yavuz needed realtime technology to do just that, broadcast the results of their questions onto the media facade and let everyone see each other’s answers at the same time.

United Colors of Dissent System Diagram

UCoD System Diagram

“We both have a background in visualization. We’ve always worked with different types of visualization where data is collected ahead of time, and visualized later. But there are a lot of politics with this, like when somebody manipulates the data. However, we were working on this concept of immediate visualization, which requires realtime. This gives it a sense of trust, immediacy, and believability. We emphasize these aspects of the project, and we write about that stuff, so for us, the realtime is really at the core of it,” said Telhan.

The PubNub Realtime Network is a core part of the project. All the messaging within the project is done via PubNub, from asking the questions, to receiving answers, to broadcasting the visualization. The entire communication layer of the project relies on PubNub’s realtime messaging API with PubNub Data Streams.

Picking PubNub

Similar to when a development team weighs the options of build vs buy, Telhan and Yavuz needed to decide whether they wanted to use a realtime service provider or build out a realtime infrastructure themselves.

Realtime functionality is an important component to UCoD, but rather than spending time and resources on building out a realtime infrastructure, they wanted something they could plug in and have working as quickly as possible. This would allow them to focus more on visualizations, questions, and other elements of the art project.

The video below demos the UCoD realtime results interface with PubNub data streams:

“It was very important for us to not have to spend time on realtime infrastructure, but rather on our art project. How would we write the questions, how would we do the visuals, how would we address the audience in the public space,” said Yavuz.

Scalability was another important consideration when picking PubNub, both for geolocation and number of users. Because UCoD is a global art project, they needed to be sure that their project would have realtime latency no matter what city the performance was taking place in. The project also needed to be able to handle large fluctuations in users, from small amounts to thousands of users simultaneously. With fourteen data centers globally, PubNub was a clear choice in being to handle to this user base.

“It’s all scalable. We’re moving to the next phase of the project where the user base may go to a couple of thousand people at one time, so nothing that we could develop would be as smooth and scalable as PubNub. And that’s why we went with PubNub,” said Telhan.

“We could’ve written our own messaging API, or a small, Java based chat room. But for us, PubNub was very well, works globally, and works very fast,” said Yavuz.

So just how important was the global scale for the project?

Excerpt from United Colors of Dissent Storyboard, Language Selection, Question and Results Screens

Excerpt from UCoD Storyboard, Language Selection, Question and Results Screens

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

With PubNub, Telhan and Yavuz didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. They easily built their project around the PubNub Realtime Network, and didn’t have to worry about the issues that came along with building out a realtime infrastructure on their own. Rather than building, maintaining, and orchestrating a realtime network, Telhan and Yavuz could plug into PubNub, and focus on what mattered most, their visualizations.

“Our project started as an art project. The great thing for us was we didn’t need to invent the technology from scratch because the solution already existed and it was already working very well.”

“There were so many problems we had to consider. What if somebody connects in Austria, and someone connects in the U.S., and on top of that, all this cloud distribution, and all this global messaging. It was a very important aspect in our project that all the world is visualized in under a second, and we can do this with PubNub” said Yavuz.


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